Yesterday, Colleen McCullough, best known as the author of “The Thorn Birds,” died at the age of 77. That book earned her over $1.9 million–at the time, the highest earnings ever for a single book. But that’s not the first thing that The Australian, one of Australia’s largest national newspapers, chose to note about McCullough in its obituary of her. It saw fit to focus on her appearance–resulting in what is quite possibly one of the most sexist obituaries ever to appear in a newspaper.
“COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.”
In this day and age, it would seem inconceivable that something this outrageously degrading and sexist could have gotten past all of the checks and balances of any halfway reputable newspaper before it went to press. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. According to Crikey, a popular Australian e-magazine, McCullough’s obituary had actually been written years earlier by a male obituary writer who has since passed away himself. There’s no word yet on the identity of the sexist jerk who supposedly wrote this. McCullough’s death was announced just as the major newspapers were about to go to press. In the rush to get the obituary inserted, apparently nobody noticed the sexist sentences.
When word of this piece got out, the condemnation came fast and far on Twitter. Several users have tweeted mocking obituaries with the hashtag “#myozobituary.” The Australian is also taking a well-deserved beating in the comment section for the obituary, as well as on Facebook. Reportedly, several of the paper’s staffers are outraged at how McCullough was treated.
Being a journalism major, I wondered how such a colossal fail could possibly happen. Then I remembered–The Australian is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. It is the flagship of the Australian half of the Murdoch empire, most of which remained under the News Corp banner when Murdoch split his publishing and broadcasting interests into two separate companies–News Corp for the newspaper interests and 21st Century Fox for the television and film interests–in 2013. This is the same company that apparently finds it acceptable to trash a newborn baby on the front page and to publish an op-ed that essentially called for Israel to shred the Geneva Conventions during its operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Seen in this light, it’s not all that surprising that The Australian found it acceptable to essentially call a woman a fat hag.
That doesn’t make it any less outrageous, though. The Australian owes McCullough’s family, and the general public, a full apology–and none of this “sorry if anyone was offended” nonsense, either. And whoever failed to catch this degrading obituary should get, at the very least, a pretty long suspension. What happened here was unacceptable, period.